Not every comedian can boast about starting an international incident with a single movie, but that's one of the many things that makes Seth Rogen's Hollywood career unique. In 2014, the Knocked Up star co-wrote, co-directed and co-starred in the media satire, The Interview, which followed an oddball celebrity TV journalist (played by James Franco) and his producer (Rogen) to North Korea where they planned to interview the country's reclusive leader, Kim Jong Un (Randall Park).
But The Interview didn't just ridicule the latest ruler from the Kim family dynasty — it depicted his violent death as well. When word of his fictional counterpart's fate leaked, North Korea orchestrated a cyberattack against Sony Pictures — which produced the film — that could be the plot of its own movie.
Seven years later, Rogen reveals that Kim Jong Un's death was intended to be even more violent than what was shown. In a new interview with the special-effects YouTube series, Corridor Crew, the actor and filmmaker revisited the series of decisions that resulted in, as he says, "the largest act of corporate espionage in history."
As Rogen recalls, Kim Jong Un's death scene was a point of contention for Sony throughout the post-production process. But the debate intensified after the studio was hacked the month before The Interview's December release, leaking countless emails and documents from notable executives and celebrities. (A group named the "Guardians of Peace" took credit for the hack, and the FBI claimed it had North Korea connections.) Following the hack and threats of attacks at the movie's premiere, Sony announced they were pulling the film from wide release.
But then-President Barack Obama entered the picture, chiding the studio's decision at a widely-watched press conference that Rogen watched live. "After Obama gave that speech, [Sony] allowed theaters who wanted to show it to show it," and they sold it to Google Play to stream it," he tells the Corridor Crew hosts.
But before The Interview was released into the world, there was still the not-insignificant matter of solving the problem of Kim Jong-un's death scene, which occurs when his Franco's character shoots down the leader's helicopter. In their original vision for the sequence, Rogen and his longtime collaborator, Evan Goldberg, planned a face-melting homage to Raiders of the Lost Ark. "We built a wax Kim Jong Un head that had all the layers — skull, brains and all this," he recalls. "There was an explosive charge in the middle. I remember we had these giant heat lamps, and we filmed it at really high speed and melted all the layers. The idea was that it would happen in a second, and his head would pop with the explosive charge when it got to the bottom layer. It was very cool."
But Sony deemed the "cool" version to be "unacceptable," and pushed for changes. "If there was going to be war with North Korea based on something in the movie, it was going to be because of this shot," Rogen says, semi-jokingly. The studio's own VFX team presented the filmmakers with other versions that obscured the bloodshed with digital fire or judicious cuts. "This became the whole negotiation: how much of the head do you see ... [It was] by far the thing I've had the most discussion about...in any one single part of any movie I've ever had anything to do with."
As Rogen himself has said, the behind-the-scenes battles over The Interview essentially ended his directing career. But at least he took one valuable lesson away from the experience: you don't have to necessarily deliver a movie on deadline. "[Studios] are always like, 'We need the movie, like, so much beforehand, and we're always like, 'That's not true!'" he tells the Corridor Crew. "We know you can change a shot 24 hours before the movie is released and it works."
The Interview is currently streaming on Netflix